After years of bouncing among the major networks like an unwanted house guest, it’s time – past time – for the Emmy Awards, coming off another record-setting ratings low, to find a permanent home.
Every other major awards show has one. The Grammys and Tonys play on CBS. The Oscars belong to ABC. And the Golden Globes have become a fixture on NBC, lending credibility to the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. event that it once conspicuously lacked.
The Emmys, however, have long rotated among ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox – a “wheel” configuration, designed to create harmony by having the top broadcasters share the industry’s biggest prize. The noble idea was that everyone would be invested in the Emmys, and thus have a stake in its success.
The Television Academy renewed its broadcast deal last year, ensuring that the awards would continue to rotate among the Big Four through 2026.
But that was then, and this is now – “now” being an era when broadcasters barely have a seat at the Emmy table, in a ceremony dominated by premium channels (a la HBO) and streaming services Netflix, Amazon, and to a lesser degree, Hulu, with more on the way.
NBC was the only broadcaster to garner any gold on Sunday night (a pair of wins for “Saturday Night Live”), and the four-network tally for the entire Emmy process (16 overall) was less than half of HBO’s take of 34.
At this point, the major networks televising the Emmys is a little like coaching a youth soccer team when your kids aren’t playing.
Small wonder Fox turned in a lackluster presentation, filling the arrival show with promotion for its musical show “The Masked Singer” that felt every bit as cheesy as that sounds.
Emmy ratings usually experience a dip when Fox hosts the show, but up against a “Sunday Night Football” game that featured the Los Angeles Rams, the decline was especially precipitous, and included the indignity of getting trounced locally in what amounts to the Emmys’ home town.
Overall, the Emmy audience plummeted by roughly a third off last year’s previous low-water mark on NBC, to a mere 6.9 million viewers, according to Nielsen data – the kind of steep drop that gets people’s attention.
A single-network deal won’t solve everything that ails the Emmys, but it will give the Television Academy, which presents the awards, a partner with an ongoing investment in the ceremony.
As it stands, the Emmys become a showcase for the network in question’s particular needs – from featuring its latenight host (a personality that Fox lacks) to promoting its fall lineup – without giving enough consideration to what will make the broadcast work, and not incidentally, upholding the awards’ reputation.
The biggest challenge facing award shows generally is sheer gravity, with a glut of content – much of it largely unseen by the public at large – mitigating rooting interest in the outcome. The people who watch “Fleabag” love it, but we don’t even know how many folks that is, since Amazon and Netflix don’t share such information. Based on the fragmented nature of TV viewing, one suspects the most prevalent reaction to most of the winners from potential viewers would be blank stares.
As for politics, whatever decline is attributable to that should, by this point, be pretty well baked into the numbers. Notably, there were various references to political causes during the acceptance speeches – including LGBTQ rights and equal pay for women – but President Trump’s name was never mentioned.
The ratings, it’s worth noting, are a secondary consideration in this context, but a little stability couldn’t hurt, strictly from a show standpoint. And it might even produce a more watchable telecast that does the academy proud.
For an Emmy ceremony that could use a win of its own, that wouldn’t be a bad place to start.